The strange case of Mr Putin and the disappearing carpet of turf


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The Independent Online

Bloggers in a provincial Russian town are investigating what happened to hundreds of strips of turf used to spruce up the town centre before a visit from the Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, which disappeared almost as soon as he left.

A video that has gained more than 50,000 views on YouTube claims to show how the city of Pskov, in north-west Russia, prepared for Mr Putin's visit late last month, with flowers planted, roads repaved, and hundreds of rolls of lush green turf laid out over muddy soil. A second video shows the city just after Mr Putin left, with the turf nowhere in sight. Bloggers joked that it could be special turf that travelled around Russia with Mr Putin; others suggested that local officials might have decided the grass would look nice at their country houses.

It is not the first "turf scandal" to hit Russia. Before Mr Putin's trip to the town of Saransk last week, local bloggers posted a video that appears to show workers spraying green paint onto muddy soil to give it the appearance of grass. A spokesman for the town's mayor said they weren't using paint, but a special "watering technique" that turned the ground green.

The turf stories fit into a long Russian tradition of "Potemkin villages", a term coined when Prince Grigory Potemkin apparently set up fake "model" villages to impress the Empress Catherine the Great on a trip to the Crimea in the 18th century.

Both Mr Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev travel frequently across Russia, and local bloggers often point out the lengths local administrators take to ensure the country's leaders leave their regions with good impressions. In late 2009, local journalists in the Siberian city of Omsk noted that a billboard advertising a theatre performance called "We are waiting for you, happy gnome!" was removed before a visit from Mr Medvedev. In December, a doctor from the city of Ivanovo called a televised phone-in session with Mr Putin to say that during the Prime Minister's recent visit to a local hospital, his bosses had borrowed new equipment from other hospitals and made some doctors pose as patients.

Mr Medvedev promised in April that he would in future make surprise trips to the regions and would punish local authorities who put on such fake shows.